Article 112 of the Norwegian Constitution gives today’s and future generations every right to a livable environment, which also includes a livable climate. The Environment paragraph is a rights declaration which orders the state to protect environment and climate against unjustifiable risk and damage, both through active measures and by refraining from climate-threatening actions.
New oil fields in the Arctic undermine the climate targets
Petroleum activity is an example of an activity that leads to increased carbon emissions with global consequences. Norway has both a legal and moral responsibility for the oil we produce, regardless of wether it is burned here or in other countries.
The judgement from Oslo District Court was based on the principle that emissions from Norwegian petroleum only are relevant for the Norwegian law if they are emitted into the atmosphere in Norway. The court therefore disregarded the fact that the actions that are the main cause of new carbon being emitted into teh atmosphere, happen in Norway. The court also disregarded that where emissions happen is of no consequence to those who live in Norway, nor for those who live other places. On the contrary, in the jugdement from the second round in Borgarting Appeal Court, it was concluded that Norway does bear some responsibility for emissions from oil and gas produced in Norway but is burned in other countries.
Climate research has estimated how much more climate emissions we can release into the atmosphere under the temperature goal of the Paris Agreement, a so-called carbon budget. It has been documented that parts of the currently discovered petroleum resources cannot be exploited if these temperature targets are to be reached. The exploitation permits considered in the lawsuit concern currently undiscovered oil resources. In other words, these petroleum resources are in addition to the already accounted for petroleum in the world, which are part of the carbon budget.
It is a misunderstanding that the Paris Agreement states that the different countries are only responsible for emissions that happen in their own countries. The Paris Agreement gives states a collective obligation to limit global warming to 1,5 degrees with the highest level of ambition.
We know that we already have found more oil and gas in the world than what we can burn if we are to stay within this critical 1,5 degree-limit. Retrieving more oil, coal and gass than there is room for in an atmosphere that should not heat more than 1,5 degrees is therefor against Article 112 of the Norwegian constitution.
The exploitation permits seek to maintain the level of Norwegian petroleum exploitation after 2030 – in a period where it has been agreed that fossil fuels shall be phased out. If there are large oil fields in the northern oceans, we can end up producing oil even after 2070.
Statistics from SSB (2013), the National Bank of Statistics in Norway, show that if Norwegian oil production is reduced by a third, it will not be replaced by the international market for oil. There is no law of nature that states that if Norway cuts its own production, the market will take over. What Norway does with its petroleum resources has an international effect.
Norway is not on course with its plans to cut emissions within its own borders. We have increased our emissions since 1990. Norway’s climate emissions totalled 52,9 million tonnes CO2-Equivalents in 2018, according to SSB. This is 1,74 million tonnes more than in 1990, or an increase of about 3-4 percent.
The fact that Norwegian authorities insist that we have no responsibility for the greenhouse gases we export, seems strange when we clearly say that we will regulate other problems, such as dangerous waste or cluster weapons, on the side of the “offerer”. Producing cluster weapons is illegal, even if they are only to be sold or transported to other countries. Similarily, there are strong restrictions on the transport of dangerous waste across national borders, as regulated by the Basel convention. Here, the regulation happens at the export stage – so too should be the case for emissions.
The areas considered in the lawsuit are in particularily vulnurable areas in the Arctic. The oil licenses are therefor particularily controversial compared to licences further south in Norwegian Marine Territories. In addition to the consideration to climate, the environmental organisations therefore believe that the oil licesnces must be declared invalid due to the risks to the local environment. Both the Polar Institute and the Norwegian Environment Agency have discouraged exploratory drilling in many of the areas where exploration licences have been granted, among them within the so-called ice border zone. This is an ecological hotspot and an area that is central to the whole ecosystem in the Barents sea. When the ice recedes and expands with the seasons, the release of nutrients contributes to an algal bloom making available nutrients and acting as a motor and source of life in the Barents sea. There is no effective technology to remove oil spills from ice, which further increases the impact of a possible oil spill. None of the scientific recommendations on environmental protection, which mostly concerned with oil drilling activity in the ice border zone and polar front, were followed during the 23. round of concessions.
Through the proceedings and work with the climate lawsuits, wide-reaching errors were found in the State’s evaluation of the rewards of potential future oil exploitation. At the time of awarding of concessions, no overarching analysis was done of the socioeconomical benefits of the ten licenses, and in the last available review (from 2013), which was done when the southeastern Barents Sea was opened for oil exploration, included a calculation error with a margin of 130 billion norwegian crowns by the Minstry of Oil, in addition to several other serious mistakes and deficiencies.